Wednesday 5 October 2022

Chemotherapy as a journey to survival

A body for assault

No two experiences of taking chemotherapy are the same, at least that is what I think from my own situation. As I took my delayed first session of Caelyx chemotherapy (liposomal doxorubicin) on the 5th of October 2009.

It was scheduled for 9:30 AM but postponed for 3 hours. In that time, I received a brilliant bouquet of flowers from Stockholm which brightened my outlook quite a bit.

I had been informed that I was not going to lose my hair, not that I had any to lose, and my fertility will be affected, not that I was planning to procreate nor was I in the state to make a preservation order on that account.

Taking cancer head-on

When I was wheeled to the oncology theatre, I was canulated and this red liquid in large sachet covered in aluminium foil to shield it from light was passed into my veins for a period of 45 minutes to an hour.

It felt like a homeward straight in my therapy, the fungating tumours of Kapasi’s sarcoma were going to be snuffed out. The chemotherapy being cytostatic, meaning it kills cells and stops cells from growing also meant that I was a health hazard to others who had to be careful about having any contact with any of my bodily fluids including blood.

After the first session, my bed was cordoned off in isolation and that affected me more than the bloated feeling that was a side effect of drug. I was informed of everything I could expect apart from the isolation which was removed after 2 nights.

How it all transpired

I had 7 chemotherapy sessions every third Monday until the 8th of February 2010. In terms of side effects, it was the loss of taste, the only things I could perceptively taste were yoghurts and cassis black currant drinks. I was literally knocked and without strength for the second and third day, then by the fifth session, I could not keep my food down that I had to be given medication to manage the emesis.

By December, the cancer lesions had disappeared, new pink skin was showing up from under the necrotised skin which needed to be cut away. It is not the best experience, but if it is the only viable course of treatment, you just have to hope you pull through it, for at the same time, a close friend on chemotherapy treated by the same oncologist did not survive his third session of chemotherapy.

Just striving to live

I guess what I learnt through the process was that you were given more of the chemotherapy if you tolerated it well. When I visited the hospital for my out-patient sessions, the ward was well-equipped, the couches were fully adjustable to recline into beds, if so desired. I took my thermos flask of tea, some biscuits, and some reading material.

Apart from the staff, we were a ward of people fighting to live, from the boy who came alone, hardly a teenager to the elderly people, just hoping that the medicine gave us a lot more time than when we first heard the word cancer spoken about our condition.

This blog of reflection is one that also recognises that people with my condition at diagnosis rarely lived for another 10 years. I have been fortunate, and I am grateful for the grace of God on my life, the amazing miracle of medical science, the support of extraordinary friends and now the wonderful love in my life, Brian. I am blessed.

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